City passes a responsible budget

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On Monday the Alexandria City Council approved its FY 2011 budget that increased overall spending by 0.3 percent. Approval of the budget is likely the most important action we take each year as it is a true statement of our priorities concerning the expenditure of public funds and how they will be employed to serve our citizens. I believe by its action, the Council acted prudently and in the best interest of our citizens, increasing important spending categories which are part of our core public services and helping to ensure the basic infrastructure necessary to our city to meet increasing demands.

Our $531 million blueprint started with the city manager’s proposed budget, which eliminated 67 positions, many of which were vacant, but nonetheless represent a savings over the current fiscal year. These reductions along with others approved by the Council permitted us to check spending, keeping it fundamentally at its current levels. Most important are the improvements that have been approved in the FY 2011 budget.

Notably, the Council increased spending to the Alexandria City Public Schools by about 2 percent over this year in order to address increasing enrollment. We are committed to providing quality education for all of our youngsters, and this increase in tight economic times is further evidence of this commitment. In concert with the School Board, the Council also took necessary action to address unfunded future pension liabilities by setting aside funds in light of the General Assembly’s failure to adequately fund these obligations.

In a significant move to improve emergency medical response, the Council approved approximately $1 million for two peak-time ambulances that will greatly enhance response time to those in need of emergency medical services. 

The Alexandria Fire Department’s goal for response time is that 90 percent of emergency calls should have medic units on-scene within six minutes. Unfortunately, we only achieve this goal 62 percent of the time and an increasing number of our emergency calls are handled by other jurisdictions under the regional mutual aid agreement. These new peak-time ambulances will greatly improve our abilities to meet our emergency goals, especially in the city’s West End, and provide the service our citizens both expect and deserve.

The Council also restored funding for two police positions in the popular and effective Community Oriented Policing program as well as a deputy sheriff position. These positions along with the new ambulances again show our commitment to public safety, a core local responsibility.

When it came to transit, the Council wisely provided additional funds to cover Alexandria’s share of Metro expenses, recognizing that mass transit is critical to our mobility as a city. We also restored $100,000 to Alexandria DASH in order to avoid service reductions.

The Council also took the initiative to improve some of our basic infrastructure by approving a half-cent increase in the property tax rate dedicated to addressing storm water runoff projects that have long plagued some of our neighborhoods. These resources will allow us to begin to tackle a long list of storm water projects that impact roadways and public lands.These funds will be reserved in a special revenue account and can only be used for storm water infrastructure projects. 

The Council also rejected proposed cuts to street paving and sidewalk improvements, recognizing that we have just come out of one of the most challenging winters in recent memory and the condition of some of our streets deserve our attention. 

I, for one, have never seen a pothole that got filled due to a reduction in spending.

The Council also chose to fund merit increases for the city workforce. The $3.4 million designated for merit raises recognizes the overall quality performances by city workers who had not had salary increases for almost three years. Each employee will get an average increase of 1.8 percent. These professionals are the ones who are there when we call 9-1-1, who keep our city clean and safe, and who take care of our most vulnerable citizens. Many of our employees were also pulling double shifts as we confronted three record snowstorms this past winter. We are fortunate to have such a professional workforce.

I believe the Council made significant reductions, keeping spending in check, and most importantly provided the needed improvements to city services education, emergency medical response and basic infrastructure while essentially maintaining the same level of spending. 

Throughout the fiscal year we will continue to monitor city spending and, where possible, we will reduce any unnecessary expenditure.

Kerry J. Donley is vice mayor of the City of Alexandria. 

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